Zakimi Castle Ruins are the remains of a historic castle from the 1400’s. Only the castle’s beautifully curved stone walls remain today, though some have been reconstructed due to damage during war times. The castle is an important part of Ryukyu history, and is often missed by tourists in Okinawa despite being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a great view from the castle ruins, and it is one of the only castles in Okinawa where you are allowed to walk on the walls.
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Located near Cape Zanpa, Zakimi Castle Ruins is not far from the popular Zanpa Beach and Zanpa Lighthouse. Yet, this magnificent castle ruin is often forgotten by tourists. It is a shame, as this historic site represents a great piece of the Ryukyu history and a reminder of how Okinawa came to be as it is today.
History of Zakimi Castle and the Sanzan Period
Zakimi Castle was constructed in the 1420’s, long before the island was known as Okinawa. At the time, in the early 1400’s Okinawas Main Island was split into three parts, each a small “kingdom”. This period in the islands history is called the Sanzan period – the period of the three mountains. In the north the Hokuzan “kingdom” ruled, in the middle the Chūzan, and in the south Nanzan.
The castle was constructed by the Chūzan kingdom, under command of lord Gosamaru who served under the Chūzan king Shō Hashi. Gosamaru is said to have constructed many castles in Okinawa. King Shō Hashi was at war with the two other kingdoms and in 1429 succeeded in having conquered both and united the entire island, effectively creating the Ryukyu Kingdom which lasted until 1879 when it was annexed by Japan.
About Zakimi Castle
Zakimi castle is called a “Gusuku” which is a term often used to describe stone-walled castles and fortresses from the Ryukyu islands. It is also due to it’s designation as a “Gusuku” and it’s importance in Okinawas history, that is has obtained a place on UNESCO’s world Heritage list as part of the list “UNESCO Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu” along with 8 other historic sites.
Zakimi Castle is heavily fortified, and was thus clearly built as part of a defence system. The walls are typical Gusuku walls, which follow the counters of the the land it is built on, giving it a natural, soft outline rather than sharp and right angles. The walls are built at a slant, which supposedly should have made it easier to spot enemies below the wall, and to spot them from other parts of the castle wall.
The castle also incorporates design elements to trick the enemy. For instance, there is a very long passageway which turns out to be nothing but a dead end. This feature is likely meant to trick the enemy into the wrong entrance, and possibly make it easy to trap and attack them. These types of secret features are called “Musha gakushi” in Japanese.
It is also worth noting, the the stone arch found in the walls is the oldest stone-arch in all of Okinawa.
Zakimi Castle in modern times
Archeological finds show that Zakimi Castle has been in use well into the 1500’s. The castle’s fate in the following centuries is not quite clear. With a unified Ryukyu Kingdom, the role of the many castles around the island may have diminished.
In more recent times however, the castle ruins were used as a gun station by Japanese military. This gunning station was operated from before the second world war, until the war ended. Following the war, the americans used the castle ruins as a radar station. During the process of installing radar systems, parts of the castle walls were damaged. The damaged wall have however been restored today.
By car: from Naha, take route 58 north towards Yomitan. Then transfer to route 12. After about 4-5 minutes on route 12 you will see the first sign pointing you towards Zakimi-Jo (Zakimi Castle).
From Nago, take route 71 south, then transfer to route 58 south. When you get near Yomitan you will see a sign pointing you towards Zakimi-Jo (Zakimi Castle). Following this sign should take you onto route 12 and after about 4-5 minutes on route 12 you will see another sign pointing you towards Zakimi-Jo (Zakimi Castle).
From Naha Bus Terminal you can take bus 28 to the stop Uza Kominkan mae. The bus ride takes about 80 minutes, and costs ¥1080 (2021). From the bus it is a 20 minute walk (2km / 1.25mi) to Yomitan Historical Museum, where you can also access Zakimi Castle Ruins.
🔗 Okinawa Airport Shuttle website
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Cover photo: Ryan Leemans licensed as Public Domain.